Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Built in 1823, this simply beautiful lighthouse is the oldest operating beacon still operating in NC.

"OCRACOKE is at the end of the world," said my fellow diner at the lovely Dajio, (,  a relatively new restaurant nestled under live oak trees near Silver Lake's waterfront.  "I wanted to take my wife to  where there were no lights, no cities, just peace," he explained with a bit of Quebecois accent.  The satellite image on his GPS pointed him to a strip of darkness that took them three days of driving from Montreal to get to.  He was a happy man.  He had devoured a pair of soft shells, his wife toasted him with wine, and he was trying Ocracoke's famous fig cake.

The British Cemetery on Ocraocke, where four British sailors who washed up during WWII were buried by the islanders, following seamen's traditions.

This Canadian couple was just one of several "foreigners" at Dajio's that night.  Another from Switzerland, another from Germany.  And for centuries, boats from all over the world have carefully made their way through the shoals leading to this tiny port.  Blackbeard, a native son turned pirate, met his demise there at the hands of a British captain, anxious to stop the looting of their royal ships. 

During World War II, four British sailors washed ashore in May of 1942, when a German submarine torpedoed the HMS Bedforeshire, a retrofitted fishing trawler that was helping the US ward off the U-boats preying on tankers and freighters along the East Coast.  None of the crew survived.  When two, then four bodies washed up on Ocracoke, the islanders buried them in a donated plot under live oaks.  That's what seamen do for each other, sort of a unwritten code.  Recently, the son of one of those men arrived in Ocracoke to commemorate those four sailors.

Arrive by ferry, park your car, then bike or hoof it around town.  Sweet.
 I arrived in Ocracoke to eat.  I'm revising THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, and wanted to check out some new sources and gather some new tastes.  It's hard work.

Guess this rooster can't read the No Trespassing sign

Ocraoke is famous for its figs.  Over eleven varieties grow on this 14-mile stretch of sand, mostly in the village that surrounds the harbor, Silver Lake.  Late April, I was outta luck. I found out the homemade fig preserves, used to make their equally famous Fig Cake, go like hotcakes during the summer.  Woccocon, by the way, was the Native American name of this island.  I can see how Ocracoke sorta came out of that.

Fig preserves are sold out, but what's the fish emulsion for?

 At the Ocracoke Seafood Company, I found fresh clams, delivered by ClamDigger Jane.  She takes her skiff out into shallow waters surrounding the island, and tends to her leased bed where she continuously sows baby clams, then covers them with matting to ensure their harvest.  The matting keeps the skates at bay.
 The clams of Ocracoke are prized for their salty but sweet taste.  They grow in the ever flowing, cleaner waters of the Pamlico Sound, which is miles and miles wide at that point.  Back in the day, there was a clam factory in Ocracoke, where local young women worked for pennies, shucking clams and packing them into cans.

That got my mouth watering for some clams, steamed, and then in the clear chowder broth the Outer Banks is known for, and especially for clam fritters.

Clam fritters made in the Outer Banks style are more like pancakes than thicker hushpuppy style fritters.  And they are usually chock full of clams.  So here's the very traditional recipe that I used in THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK (by Elizabeth Wiegand, Globe Pequot Press, 2008).

Traditional OBX clam fritters
The recipe is rather simple:

About 1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped clams
1 beaten egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
about 1/2 cup flour
Optional:  a tablespoon of chopped fresh chives or parsley
Canola oil for frying

Drain the clams; reserve the juice.  Mix together the egg and seasonings, then add enough flour to hold the mixture together.  Add the clams, and stir.  Add more clam juice, or flour, whatever is needed to make a nice, thickened batter.
Heat enough oil in a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, to cover the bottom well.  When hot, add spoonfuls of batter, and fry until golden brown.  Flip and brown again.  Place on paper towels to drain.
Serve with softened butter, or softened cream cheese or goat cheese, that's enhanced with herbs or honey.  Enjoy!

As renowned Southern chef and writer Virginia Willis says as she closes her blog and recipes, please be nice.  If you decide to use or copy or re-post, please be nice and give credit.  Thanks!

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